How did the band get together?
Matthew Gervais: Nick and I had been playing together in another band for
several years that was seemingly moribund when the singer brought Pete in
to change the dynamic and add keyboard parts. At the time, I was playing
drums and Nick was the lead guitarist. During a few months of otherwise
contentious rehearsals, I came to realize I had a musical kinship to Pete
and a similar songwriting bend, so when the band finally dissolved, we
said, "hey, why don’t we get something going here?" We recorded a couple
of Pete’s songs in the rehearsal space and it slowly evolved from there.
Mikey had just moved back from California and naturally took up the guitar
duties, but we weren’t able to score Davey for another year or so and were
forced to play shows with me stomping on a hi-hat with a tambourine on top
in lieu of drums. Nick was gracious enough to switch to bass even though
he probably should have played guitar instead of me. In coming together
the way we did, we had found again that thing that attracts you to music
in the first place. There was a lot of laughter as well. It was
carnivalesque and a hell of a lot of fun.
How has recording and writing changed for What a Lovely Surprise to
Wake Up Here as compared with the last album?
Matthew Gervais: The last album came together a lot more methodically, which is why it may not feel quite as lively. We wanted to go for this complete piece, where every song seemlessly blended into the next, yet stood on its own as well. I’m not sure we succeeded in the latter. Plus, at the time the album was recorded, we hadn’t yet found Davey, so I’m actually the drummer on that record. That aspect lends itself to a more layered and methodical approach. I still love the way it sounds and had a blast making it.
The next time around, at least personally, I decided to focus a lot more
on the songs themselves, and if they ended up working as pieces to a
greater whole, then great, but it wasn’t the sole objective here. I made
a conscious decision not to make demos for the songs on this record so
that the band as a unit played a larger role in shaping the sound. I’m
pleased with the results and invigorated to pursue that further.
Peter Fedofsky: Well, the recording of this album was so immediate. We
tried to record the album a couple of times before the final sessions, and
the decision was made to just go into the studio and play it live. Our
last record was an "everything but the kitchen sink" jigsaw puzzle. I love
the results, but it just doesn’t sound like us live. We made a solid
record that was going for Sgt. Pepper antics on an Emitt Rhodes budget.
This time around, we just played it as we would on stage, and kept the
"antics" to a minimum. From the get-go, the first playbacks were knocking
us silly, so to quote Lennon, "we knew that we had got something going."
Writing wise, this album was written by a more mature band that knew its
strengths better. I don’t consciously write songs for the band much, but
subconsciously, I think that I’m arranging for the band in my head every
time I demo something new.
We obviously hear lots of great Lennon McCartney influences here but
other than them tell us 3 musical heroes and what makes them special to
Peter Fedofsky: Well, I’ve been worshipping at the altar of Scott Joplin for most of my adult life. No other writer/musician has influenced my playing style more. He is the foundation on which I build most of my piano parts. I know he said to never play fast, but I owe a huge amount of technical know-how to drilling his music as fast as possible. Also, I would be remiss if I
avoided mentioning Harry Nilsson. Without a doubt, Matt and I are enamored
with both his vocals and songwriting. He always kept a foot in tin-pan
alley, and we’ve taken that to heart more than a few times. I think I can
speak for the both of us in saying that there is a soft spot in our hearts
for Harry’s vocal acrobatics. Matt can do a dead on impression of him,
too. I think that the fadeout of "The Snails" from our last record has a
great vocal where Matt is channeling the man! For number three, can I go
cliché and say Brian Wilson? I think that it is fair to say that Matt and
I are slavish devotees of his work both chordally and harmonically. I can
remember driving up to London Bridge Studios during the recording of "What
a Lovely Surprise," and I had just found a bootleg of demos for "That
Lucky Old Sun." Matt and I sat in the car and clicked through the tracks
before we even headed in to the studio that day. I always return to his
work with awe… total awe. It’s so ever-present, that I think there is an
unspoken and permanent ban on Friends being played in my house/car as that
album lived in the car stereo for most of 2008. PF
Matthew Gervais: I’d certainly agree with Pete on Nilsson and Wilson, (hey that sounds like a good band name). My parents used to play The Point for us on road trips to the Oregon Coast when we were kids. In my more recent years I’ve become a devotee of Leonard Cohen, mostly for that strange magic that he can evoke both musically and lyrically. I strive for that sort of gravity
in lyric writing. Plus, I have to mention that Johnny Mathis saved my
life vocally. I’ve almost mastered his entire catalogue. Or at least I
wish I’ve almost mastered his entire catalogue.
What do you find works best for your creative process when bringing a
song together? Does it evolve from jams riffs lyrics?
PF: Matt and I basically write tunes and fully flesh them out as "demos",
which really end up being more like finished performances of most to all
of our songs. This is going to sound like that interview with Lennon and
McCartney where they claim that they have hundreds of songs, but we really
have collected an insane amount of finished tunes in the last 5 years or
so. Between the two of us, we’ve probably written 40ish songs in 2009. It
all comes down to the fact that Matt and I are non-stop writers. We write
separately, but are extremely influenced by each other. I think that in
the canon of songwriting, our last names preclude us from writing
together. Fedofsky/Gervais doesn’t exactly roll off of the tongue like
Lieber and Stoller or Gilbert and Sullivan! I remember a few years back we
were really into waltzes, and between us, we wrote at least an EP worth of
waltzes. I digress… anywho, the usual process is to bring in our demos
and have a listen and see what sticks. Occasionally, Matt and I will sit
around a bit at the piano and workshop whatever we’ve been working on as
of late, but by the time that a song is attempted at a rehearsal, most of
the music, lyrics, and even harmonies are pretty much worked out by the
songwriter. We’ve been getting a bit out of this practice in the last
couple of months by just coming in and demoing the songs for the whole
band live. To date, I don’t think that we’ve ever jammed or riffed
ourselves into a tune.
MG: The only songs we’ve jammed ourselves into have been kind of jokes
while warming up for rehearsal. I don’t think any have been recorded.
I’m hoping one day we all say, "whoah, that’s a keeper." The other day we
had this amazing prog jam that I wished had been recorded Pete and I will also hand out demos for the guys to listen to and they may or may not end up being used. Actually to date, I’d guess that about 9 out of 10 songs that we demo go un-used. (Future solo album material maybe). Maybe that’s why we’ve got a new mantra of bringing ’em in fresh.
You use a huge variety of instruments. Do you all know how to play
brass instruments? or is it Mikey and Nick’s specialty?
MG: This is certainly Nick and Mikey’s specialty. They are both
extremely intuitive when it comes to working the wind or brass
instruments. It’s amazing to see. When we first worked on Small Change, the two of them left the room and we had our first ever band sectional like the good old days back in band class. They were gone for about an hour and came back in the room with the song complete. I don’t think I’ve thanked them enough for all the arranging that went into making Heaven’s Waiting and Small Change.
PF: Brass belongs to those two. Nick throws in a trombone on the records
now and again. Most all of us play a mean guitar. Most of us also have
working knowledge of bass, mandolin, ukulele, and banjo. I throw in an
accordion and violin on occasion, and Matt can play a stray organ part now
and again. I was recently asked for one word to describe our live show,
and I said rotate, because Matt, Nick, and I play bass during the set now,
and Mike and Nick swap out for the brass mid-stride.
Do you plan to play at any music festivals (like International Pop
Overthrow) during your tour?
MG: We’ve almost played this gig the last two years in a row. Something
has always come up. We would LOVE to do it this year, as I think the
mission is an admirable one and you’ve gotta respect all the hard work and
love put into organizing such an awesome event. Perhaps it’ll be best to
catch it when it comes back to Seattle, although New York is delightful
this time of year.
What’s next for the band?
MG: We’re going to tour the west coast/NW region in late January/Early
February, hopefully all the while preparing enough new tunes to complete
another album as soon as we can! We’ll just wait and see what the supreme
commanders at Spark and Shine tell us to do.
Thanks for the interview, guys – I can’t wait for your next album!